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Colombia reports first Zika deaths, all in medically compromised patients




AMSTERDAM – Five people with confirmed Zika virus infections have died in Colombia, and all had medical comorbidities, including leukemia, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, and hypertension.

All of the deaths occurred last October in northern and central Colombia, Dr. Alfonso Rodriguez-Morales said at the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases annual congress.

Four of the cases were simultaneously published April 7 in the Lancet Infectious Diseases (2016 Apr 7. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099[16]30006-8). The fifth case occurred in northern Colombia, and was reported in Emerging Infectious Diseases (2016 May. doi: 10.3201/eid2205.151934).

Reports of confirmed Zika-related deaths are rare. Brazil, the only other country to disclose them, has now reported three, said Dr. Rodriguez-Morales of the Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira, Colombia.


“Before the current outbreak in Latin America, Zika virus was not linked to deaths,” he noted. But the eight confirmed Zika-related deaths in South America “call attention to the need for evidence-based guidelines for clinical management of Zika, as well as the possible occurrence of atypical and severe cases, including possibly congenitally related microcephaly.”

Because they all occurred in medically compromised patients, Dr. Rodriguez-Morales also urged clinicians to cast a wary eye on such patients who present with arbovirus-type symptoms, including fever and rash.

From September 2015 to March 2016, Colombia had 58,838 reported cases of Zika. Of those, only 2,361 were lab confirmed. The rest were either diagnosed clinically or were suspected cases, Dr. Rodriguez-Morales said. Although Colombia has a much smaller population than Brazil (49 million vs. 210 million), its Zika case rate is much higher, 120 cases per 100,000 people vs. 34 cases per 100,000 people.

The group of four deaths occurred in central Colombia, and included a 2-year-old girl, a 30-year-old woman, a 61-year-old man, and a 72-year-old woman. All presented with 2-6 days of fever. All were initially suspected to have dengue fever or chikungunya. None tested positive for dengue, but the man was coinfected with chikungunya.

All patients presented with anemia. All but the older man also had severe thrombocytopenia.

The toddler presented with hepatomegaly, mucosal hemorrhage, progressive respiratory collapse, progressive thrombocytopenia, and intravascular coagulation. She died 5 days after symptom onset and was found to have had unrecognized lymphoblastic leukemia.

The 30-year-old woman presented with a severe rash on both arms. She also exhibited coagulation dysfunction, including severe thrombocytopenia and leukopenia that progressed to intracerebral and subarachnoid hemorrhage. She died 12 days after symptom onset. She was determined to have had unrecognized acute myeloid leukemia.

The elderly man had a history of medically controlled hypertension. He experienced mucosal hemorrhage and respiratory distress. He died 7 days after symptom onset. On autopsy, his liver showed necrotic areas, and his spleen indicated a systemic inflammatory response.

The elderly woman had a history of insulin-controlled type 2 diabetes. Her symptoms included gastrointestinal distress, thrombocytopenia, and acute respiratory failure. She died 48 hours after symptom onset; her brain showed edema and ischemic lesions.

The 15-year-old girl in northern Colombia had a 5-year history of sickle cell disease, which, Dr. Rodriguez-Morales pointed out, is a risk factor for arbovirus diseases. However, the patient had never been hospitalized for a vasoocclusive crisis. She presented with a high fever; joint, muscle, and abdominal pain; and jaundice. She was assumed to have dengue virus. Within another day, she had progressed into respiratory failure and was on a ventilator. She died less than 2 days later.

Her autopsy showed hepatic necrosis and severe decrease of splenic lymphoid tissue with splenic sequestration. Systemic inflammation probably triggered a fatal vasoocclusive crisis and splenic sequestration.

Dr. Rodriguez-Morales had no financial disclosures.

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